Thursday, December 1, 2016

Vegetable Feature: The Many Colors of Storage Turnips

By Laurel Blomquist
Left: Purple Top Turnip / Right: Sweet Scarlet Turnip

     At Harmony Valley Farm, we grow several different varieties of storage turnips: gold, sweet scarlet and the more common purple top. Each can add a splash of color to your seasonal store of root vegetables this winter.
     Turnips have been cultivated for 4,000 years and probably originated in Middle or East Asia. There is evidence that they were grown for their seeds in India as early as the 15th century BC, and records exist of their cultivation in ancient Greece and Rome. They have served as an abundant winter crop for peasants when no other food was available, and also used as fodder for livestock during the long winter, when hay was scarce. Turnips are actually swollen stems fused with the root, and not just a root, as is commonly thought. The part that we eat is where the plant stores its energy that it would need to later produce seeds, if left to complete the full life cycle.
     Gold turnips can be traced to early 19th century Scotland, and were first patented in the United States in 1855 as “Robert’s Gold Ball.” The Scarlet turnip was introduced to the US in the 1890s by William Henry Maule as an improvement on a variety that originated in India. Purple Top turnips were introduced from France in 1852. The part that sits atop the soil line turns purple as it is exposed to sunlight.
      Storage turnips are dense and crisp with a sometimes spicy and pungent flavor when eaten raw. When they are cooked the flavor mellows and is mild and actually sweet. Gold and sweet scarlet turnips are our favorite turnips to eat as they are more mild than the traditional purple top turnip, which is the variety people are most often familiar with. Turnips harvested later in the fall after a few chilly nights are generally sweeter and have a more balanced flavor than those that are grown and harvested when it is warm or hot.
     Turnips are a very versatile root vegetable and may be eaten raw or cooked, although most often they are cooked. They can be stir-fried, steamed, boiled, braised, glazed, roasted or pickled. They also add a nice background flavor to soups, stews and braised meats. Storage turnips differ from the baby white salad turnips you received earlier in the season. They are meant for long storage and will keep for months if you store them in a cold, moist environment. Keep them in your refrigerator in a plastic bag. Sometimes when they are stored for longer periods of time they will start to get soft from moisture loss, but will firm up again when placed in a bowl of cold water. You can also use softer turnips in soups and you’ll never know the difference!
     Turnips are high in Vitamin C, minerals and dietary fiber, and are also low in calories. As a member of the brassica family, they contain cancer-fighting phytonutrients and antioxidants, an nice benefit to add to a winter diet. So enjoy your turnips and bring some color into your life during the cold, white winter.

Moroccan Turnip and Chickpea Braise

HVF Sweet Scarlet Turnip Harvest

Yield: 4 Servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut crosswise into ½-inch thick half-moons
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 (14-15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a large, deep saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomato paste, turnips, salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper and stir well. Add the chickpeas and broth, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
3. Stir in the pepper and cilantro. Serve hot.

Author’s Note:“Serve this wintry braise over rice or couscous or alongside a simple main dish, like roasted chicken thighs... If you like a saucy braise, serve the dish as soon as it is ready. The turnips will absorb the liquid as the dish cools.”

Recipe borrowed from Laura B. Russell’s book 
Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables.

Turnip "Risotto"

This recipe for Turnip “Risotto” was shared with us recently by a CSA member named Kristin.  If you are skeptical about cooking with turnips, consider what Kristin had to say: “I’m just writing to share a fantastic turnip recipe that we discovered. I’ve always had a hard time with turnips, never really finding a recipe that made them palatable to me (excluding salad turnips - those are delicious just as they are!). Then I came across this recipe, and it changed my whole world view on turnips.  We just tried it again last night with the beauty heart radishes that were languishing in our fridge, and it was delicious with those, too. Just sharing in case you are ever on the look out for a recipe to serve as a “turnip ambassador”.

Yield: 4 Servings
Photo Borrowed from

6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, cut into ⅛ inch dice
1 ½ pounds turnips, cut into ⅛ inch dice
2 cup hot chicken stock
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Warm the chicken stock in a sauce pan over medium-low heat.
2. Pour the olive oil into a large skillet and turn the heat to medium. Toss in the onion and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the turnips and cook for 2 minutes. Ladle in some of the hot chicken stock and cook until absorbed. Continue until all of the stock has been added, about 10 minutes.
4. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the butter and grated cheese stir occasionally for a minute. Remove from the heat, garnish with parsley, and serve.

This recipe was featured on
but Mario Batali is the original chef who created this recipe.

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